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The Rediff Special/ Sheela Bhatt

'Talk of war, surgical strikes is ill-advised'

December 17, 2008

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In this special series, rediff.com Editorial Director, News, Sheela Bhatt asks strategic thinkers about India's options on responding to the Mumbai terror attacks.

In the first segment, Brajesh Mishra, the former national security advisor and principal secretary to then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, argued that India has many options before it, but it must fight its battles on its own.

Part I: India will have to fight in its own way: Brajesh Mishra

In the second part of the series, Sheela Bhatt asked Kanwal Sibal, the former foreign secretary, if India has played its cards well and what India's best diplomatic options are.

Part II: The international community won't help us: Kanwal Sibal

In New Delhi [Images] there is hectic debate about India's options in responding to the Mumbai attacks. Two emerging views clearly show the divide within the diplomatic and strategic communities.

Many strategic thinkers fear that the United Progressive Alliance government may get bogged down by Western worries about Afghanistan and may agree that the war against the Taliban [Images] is 'India's war too'. The consequential logic will hold that it will not be prudent for India to disturb Pakistan's western border by creating tension on the eastern border.

Also, the argument that Pakistan is itself a victim of terror will eventually help its civilian government escape blame.

Pakistan is sure to try and prove to the international community that its democracy needs to be saved and that it will benefit the region. Its rulers will say India's emotions of 'revenge or retaliation' needs to be countered aggressively at a time when Pakistan is trying to send its powerful army to the barracks after many decades.

As a result, believe it or not, after all the diplomacy by India, Pakistan will end up as the net beneficiary of the Mumbai attacks, says a Pakistan expert based in New Delhi.

He explains that the Western powers will end up enriching Pakistan's military and to protect the fragile civil regime in Islamabad [Images], the world will ignore that nation's soft handling of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, the Jamaat-ud-Dawah and the Jaish-e-Mohammad over the course of time. The Western powers want to ensure that till the situation in Afghanistan is under control, Pakistan and Indian leaders should be kept busy in mere posturing and rhetoric.

But this view is strongly countered by some pragmatists and backers of globalisation.

People who take 8 percent growth as the best Indian weapon in diplomacy are using a different premise to argue the best strategic option for New Delhi.

The shoes that were hurled at President George W Bush [Images] in Baghdad on Sunday speak volumes of the Western powers's complete lack of credibility to deal with Islamic elements in the world.

If India teams up with the US, Israel and other Western powers it will face the same credibility crisis in Pakistan and elsewhere in the Arab world and China.

Naresh Chandra, India's former ambassador to Washington, a former Cabinet secretary, career bureaucrat and lucid thinker on strategic affairs, reviews the steps India has taken so far and also speaks of what could be our best strategy. He is a member of the National Security Advisory Board and heads the NSAB group on internal security.

These are his personal views and not those of the Government of India.

I believe India's diplomatic steps so far are quite okay. The government has done as well as they could. I don't see much to criticise. The point to ponder is that we can be more belligerent, but we should not alienate the people of Pakistan in the process. They have been themselves opposing the dominance of the army and the Inter Services Intelligence.

After the Mumbai attacks, they were expressing sympathy with the people affected in India. We have to be careful when we speak on this side of the border. I don't think that Pakistanis, in general, are interested in bombing the Taj and railway stations.

We should recognise one thing clearly: The people in Mumbai are really upset with the authorities in New Delhi and Mumbai. They sense that their anger should not be just shifted to the people in Pakistan. There is huge support for efforts to put up new structures and to strengthen the existing set-up for stronger internal security.

Pakistan comes under pressure because of its great dependence on US aid. While we should make diplomatic efforts to demonstrate the reality of the terrorist infrastructure thriving in Pakistan, we should keep in mind that acting in concert with the US and other powers enables the Pakistan army [Images] to persuade its people of a conspiracy to put down Pakistan. The unintended consequence is that lots of Pakistanis start rallying behind the army, and even the ISI.

The fact is that many sections in Pakistan have started to wonder whether the armed forces, the ISI and militant organisations have served their cause well. They feel that they have lost something precious over time. Spells of military rule, questionable operations by the ISI and its operational links with terrorist outfits has diminished the dignity and honour of Pakistan.

Most countries now think of Pakistan as the epicentre of terrorism and an international migraine. Our efforts should be to focus blame where it lies and not tar every one in Pakistan with the same brush. Our ultimate goal should be to strengthen people to people relations while taking the strongest possible action to confront and defeat the bad elements spreading terror all over the region.

The talk of war at this time is most ill-advised. People certainly do not wish it, but they want the government to take the strongest possible measures in every sphere. The priority at the moment should be to strengthen our internal security arrangements and improve coordination among the intelligence agencies, state governments and military authorities. Talk of surgical strikes is also somewhat misplaced as the possibility of counter strikes and further escalation cannot be ruled out.

Heightened tensions on Pakistan's eastern border would give the Pakistan army the alibi to reduce counter insurgency and counter terrorist operations along the western border, thereby causing problems for the NATO forces in Afghanistan. In fact, the Pakistan army has already sent a strong message in recent days by the attacks on US convoys of military hardware destined for Afghanistan.


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